Study in Belgium

Belgium cityscape
Updated 2021-12-16 14:32

Belgium is an ideal destination for students worldwide. This country attracts students with its high-quality educational system and its ideal geographical location. We'll tell you more about how to expatriate to Belgium as a student.

Everyone knows that three different languages are spoken in Belgian's people daily life. It's no different for students.

If you wish to study in Belgium and only speak one language out of the three, European and international schools will welcome you. The European Union has a website dedicated to studies within the EU called PLOTEUS. It'll help you choose the best place to study according to your needs.

Bear in mind that most postgraduate schools and universities in Belgium use English as a first language, so it makes a great place to study, especially if you're interested in international relations and/or diplomacy. Belgium's also a fantastic place to go to university if you're planning on working for a European Union institution since it's one of the six founding countries of the EU. In addition, the capital of Brussels is home to several important institutions in Europe, such as the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. Belgium is also at the center of several global organizations, considering it's the founder of Benelux, NATO, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Eurozone. This makes it great for international students.

If you wish to improve in French or Dutch, each university has its Center for Languages where you can practice languages. Some institutions also offer language classes with flexible hours.

Am I eligible to study in Belgium?

If you come from one of the European Union (EU) member states, no visa is required. The same goes for if you're from a country that's in the European Economic Area (EEA) or if you're from Switzerland.

The member states in the EU are listed below:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden

The countries in the EEA are listed below:

All the EU countries, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway

If you come from a third country (outside the EU or the EEA), a visa might be required to study in Belgium, especially if you're staying in the country for over three months. You must be in full-time studies and going to university must be the main purpose for your stay in Belgium to be granted a student visa. For more information on this matter, contact the Belgian embassy or consulate of your home country.

If a visa is required, then you'll need to apply to a university before submitting your visa application. The following documents are necessary upon going to the consulate or embassy:

  • Copy of your passport, valid for at least one year
  • Certificate of enrollment, pre-enrollment, or admission in one of Belgium's educational institution that's recognized by public authorities
  • Proof of sufficient funding
  • Medical certificate
  • Copy of your criminal record

Once in Belgium, foreign students, including European ones, must register at the communal administration (maison communale/gemeentehuis) of their town of residence in order to change their status. The administration delivers a resident permit that's valid for one year and is renewable. To register, students need to give a certificate of enrollment at the university of their choice. This registration needs to be done within eight days following the student's arrival on Belgian soil.

Students have to show proof of sufficient funding, consisting of a monthly allowance of at least €679, transferred to the student's Belgian bank account. To prove sufficient funding when registering, the following documents are necessary:

  • Certificate proving the student benefits from a scholarship or a student loan
  • Person over 18 years old (Belgian or from a foreign country, but with the right of residence of more than three months) guaranteeing to take care of the student's financial needs for a year or the entire duration of the studies. The guarantor needs sufficient and stable funding themselves, at least €1,330.74 monthly, including the student allowance and €150 per dependant.
  • Proof of personal income (students can work up to 20 hours a week with a work permit C) 

The amount of necessary funding varies each year. The Office for Foreigners is in charge of reviewing it. The figures above were agreed upon for the 2021 school year.

Higher education in Belgium

Higher education is divided by the two main communities in the country: Flemish and French. There's a small minority of the population that speaks German, but there are essentially no German universities in Belgium. German-speaking Belgians usually enroll in French Community universities or go to Germany for higher education.

Each of the communities separates their high education in their own ways. For the Flemish Community, there are two types of higher education: universities (universiteiten) and university colleges (hogescholen). There are a total of five universities in the Flemish Community. As for the French Community, they also have the same distinctions, with a total of six universities here. However, there are two subcategories for university colleges: Hautes écoles and Écoles supérieures des Arts.

Universities award a bachelor's degree (the French call it a bachelier while the Dutch call it a bachelor) after three years or after receiving the equivalent of 180 credits in the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). After receiving their bachelor's degree, students can go on to get a master's degree (called Masters de spécialisation in French and Manama's in Dutch. This is usually awarded after one or two years of study, or 60 or 120 ECTS credits. For students wishing to pursue their studies further, universities offer doctorate degrees or specialized master's degrees. Higher colleges also offer specialized bachelor's degrees.

Student Exchange Programs

Perhaps you don't want to stay in Belgium on a long-term basis but would still like to take advantage of their fantastic educational system. In that case, you can get a glimpse of it by enrolling in an exchange program.

There are two ways to do so: by applying through an organization or scheme. If you opt for the latter, two good ones to try are WEP and AFS Intercultural Programs. You'll still need a visa to participate in an exchange program, so you'll need:

  • Proof the exchange program is funding your stay in the country
  • Itinerary information from the exchange program
  • Parental consent form (if you're underage in your country of origin)

Top Belgian universities to consider

If you don't know which universities to apply to in Belgium, here are some of the best ones you should consider.

Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

For the best international feel, you should go to ULB. Not only is it located right in Brussels, but nearly 33% of its student population is foreign. It's a great university to attend if you want to do scientific research, as four of its graduates are Nobel Prize winners.

Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven

KU Leuven is Belgium's biggest university and is also the oldest existing Catholic one. You can actually attend classes in 11 cities, although most are offered near Brussels. This university's specialty is scientific research and around 16% of its students are international ones.

University of Liège

This public university has nine faculties and about one-fifth of its student population is foreign. It's got a great training program and is focused on multidisciplinary pedagogies.

Ghent University

This is the first Dutch-speaking university in Belgium. It has excellent science and engineering programs. And like ULB, Ghent University has several Nobel Prize winners as well.

Enrolling in a Belgian university

Each institution has its own admission and enrollment department. It's recommended that you contact the different schools to get more details.

However, the following documents are required to get a complete file:

  • Copy of your ID
  • Copy of your passport with the stamp of your temporary resident permit if you aren't coming from one of the EU member states
  • Identity photographs (black and white, and in color)
  • All the documents related to the process
  • All the documents related to the scholarship (if you're getting one)

Exceptions for enrollment

It's true that if you have a secondary education diploma, you can go to practically any university you want to without needing anything else but the diploma. However, there are 4 exceptions that have some extra requirements.

For medicine and dentistry, you'll need to first take an entrance exam, which was first introduced in the 1990s (Flanders) and 2017 (French Community). This entrance exam was a way to effectively control how many students were accepted into these universities, as there was an excess.

Those who want to apply for an arts major will also have to take entrance exams. While art is subjective, these exams test you on practical knowledge. Do note that each university has its own test and they're not uniform across institutions.

In engineering sciences, you used to have to take an entrance exam in Flanders but not anymore. It's only required in the French Community and the test mainly focuses on mathematics.

Lastly, people choosing majors in management sciences will need to take entrance exams as well, but they're for master's degrees and not for bachelor's degrees. The tests will be custom-written to suit the specific field, such as financial management.

Tuition fees for universities

One of the most important things you might be asking that regards studying in Belgium is this: how much does higher education cost? The answer to this question will depend on which community the university is in, your financial situation, and your country of origin. There are three categories for students: bursary, almost-bursary, and non-bursary.

Bursary students are those who are eligible for financial aid, which means they can go to French Community universities for free. However, you'll have to pay between €80 to €100 at Dutch Community universities.

Almost-bursary students are those who qualify for partial financial aid. Their families must make below €1,286.09 per month. French Community universities will provide scholarships of up to half the full tuition fee. Dutch Community universities will have tuition fees of between €333.60 and €378.60.

Lastly, non-bursary students are those who don't qualify for any financial aid. These are students whose families make over €1,286.09 per month. If you're a non-bursary student and choose a Dutch Community university, you'll have to pay between €890 and €910. For French Community universities, you'll pay around €830.

In general, the cap for financial aid is €5,000 per year. While financial aid isn't awarded based on your grades, it can be taken away if you fail too many classes. So make sure you do your best at university to not only ensure a better future but also to secure financial help for the foreseeable future.

Equivalence for foreign diplomas

No matter the institution, you'll need an equivalence for any diploma obtained in a foreign country. Students can ask for it at the services for equivalence in Belgium. The service for equivalence in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation will tell you how to proceed, depending on your studies and diploma. Other resources include the Belgian FPS Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Flemish National Academic Recognition and Information Center, and NARIC (in Flanders).

The Bologna Process

The Bologna Process is where educational institutions follow just two degrees: bachelor's and master's. Most of Europe and the Western world follows this process, so if if you've got degrees in the Bologna Process, Belgium will recognize them.

What's interesting is that Belgium wasn't always subscribed to the Bologna Process. Previously, the country had a much more complicated system that consisted of these degrees: graduate, candidate, licentiate, and DEA (diplôme d'études approfondies).

Where to live as a student in Belgium

The internet is full of information regarding kots, which are studios and student rooms near universities. Most Belgian schools and universities have rooms to rent in their area. Don't hesitate to ask dedicated professionals at the educational institution upon your arrival or once on Belgian soil.

Useful links:

Diplomacy Belgium - Belgian embassies and consulates abroad

Diplomacy Belgium - Visa application

Study Flanders

Study in Belgium

Wallonia-Brussels International

Doctoral studies Belgium


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